About This Festival
Nostalgic Yet Forward Thinking
Since 2005, Riot Fest has been on a mission to bring punk music (and its many subgenres) out of dank basements and dirty clubs and into a friendlier festival setting. What began as a weekend of shows across various venues in Chicago has since evolved into a proper gathering in cities across North America. Now seemingly settled into a more permanent annual attraction in both Denver and Chicago, Riot Fest may not be afraid of change, but it is unabashedly nostalgic. It's kind of like Warped Tour for those who feel entirely too old to attend Warped Tour anymore.
When Riot Fest established its current iteration as a multi-stage outdoor festival in 2012, its organizers also laid the groundwork for what to expect musically going forward. Let's just say that this is a festival that knows its audience incredibly well. Over the years, Riot Fest has brought in indie favorites, established and emerging punk and metal bands, and legacy acts not usually found on the festival circuit. They've also begun incorporating more hip-hop into the lineup. In addition to supporting legends like Patti Smith, Blondie, MotÃ¶rhead, Elvis Costello, and Iggy Pop, Riot Fest has slowly gained a reputation for securing tough headliners like Morrissey. They've also become pros at orchestrating memorable reunions to rival Coachella like The Misfits in 2016 and The Replacements in 2013.
One of the festival's other major strengths is tapping into the previously untouched cult of late 90s and early 2000s emo. Every notable emo band from Drive Like Jehu to The Ataris to Brand New has graced these stages. Organizers have also worked their magic with surprise side stage shows from bands like Taking Back Sunday, and final performances from Motion City Soundtrack. Riot Fest also regularly tips their hats to beloved locals from their founding city like Smoking Popes, Alkaline Trio, and The Lawrence Arms – all of whom have played multiple times.
Keeping It DIY
Although a relatively small festival, these loaded lineups stretch across six stages in Chicago and four in Denver, dispersing crowds and, of course, creating no shortage of scheduling dilemmas. Both locations keep stages easily walkable from one another, creating an easy going experience, as well as a nice little sense of community. Respective rodeo (Denver) and carnival (Chicago) themes are played up in both cities and traveling circus sideshow Hellzapoppin provides freak show fun for those in need of a short music break.
In the grand tradition of its roots, Riot Fest keeps things pretty DIY while running a tight ship. While the festival grounds do have merch and record label booths, as well as local food trucks and vendors, organizers and attendees agree that the focus is largely on the music. That, and a hearty appreciation for John Stamos.
National Western Complex